SOUTH PORTLAND — The Affordable Care Act has transformed health insurance shopping for consumers. Never before could you log online, get an immediate comparison of insurance options, see if you qualify for financial assistance or a subsidy, and make a decision on a plan that’s best for your family and your budget.

While the Affordable Care Act will continue to be debated, one thing is clear – people in Maine have embraced it. More than 44,000 people across the state bought health insurance on the exchange in its first year.

Nov. 15 marked the start of this year’s open enrollment on and off the exchange.

While this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything you should be aware of when you shop for insurance, the following guidelines will give you some key points to think about as you consider your options.

Pay attention to key dates: If you purchased a health insurance plan for yourself or your family during open enrollment last year, the time to renew or change that plan began Nov. 15. Please keep in mind that open enrollment will last through Feb. 15.

 Update your information: Regardless of whether you want to keep your current plan, if you bought it through the exchange, you should update your information to be sure you receive the right subsidy and premium. If you don’t, you may pay more than necessary for your coverage – or you may owe the federal government money at tax time next year.

If you are an Anthem member, you can ensure that your information is up to date by logging on to ChangeMyCoverage.com. Anyone who purchased on the exchange can update their profile on Healthcare.gov. To ensure that you receive the correct subsidy for coverage effective Jan. 1, you must update this information by Dec. 15.

 Be on the lookout for information about open enrollment: If you haven’t already, you will be receiving important notices about your health coverage. This includes information from your health insurance company that will explain any changes to premiums and benefits for the coming year, and important information about open enrollment deadlines.

New consumers, when shopping, can connect with Anthem.com for a one-stop shopping experience. They may also call Anthem’s telesales, an insurance agent or broker or a navigator, or connect with Healthcare.gov. If you are purchasing a new plan and would like coverage effective Jan. 1, you must do so by Dec. 15.

See if your current plan is the most affordable option: Carefully review the information from your health insurance company and make sure that your current plan still meets your needs. Compare premiums, co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance.

The Maine Bureau of Insurance makes this easy, with a premium calculator (http://1.usa.gov/1Hb7FkB) that helps consumers compare all insurers selling plans on the exchange.

 Compare benefits and member tools: For many people, health insurance premiums for plans on the exchange in the Portland region have either decreased or remained flat from last year, so make sure you are getting the most value in coverage and benefits for your premium dollar.

If having online access to a physician via your smartphone or computer is important to you, see if your insurer covers those services. If you want to look at claims and benefits information in real time with a mobile app, or use your smartphone to find a pharmacy or refill a prescription, find out which insurers offer tools that make your life easier.

Most importantly, know that you are not alone. This is a new way to buy your health insurance, but there is information available to help you. If you have questions, use the resources we have here in Maine:

Talk to your health insurance company; reach out to insurance brokers, navigators or consumer advocates; go to consumer websites like www.Enroll207.com and the Maine Bureau of Insurance website (http://1.usa.gov/1wPuLEZ); speak with your neighbors and friends, or attend a community forum.

Buying health insurance is an important decision, and there are a lot of things to consider. Please take time to have these conversations and take advantage of some of the great resources we have here in Maine.